Reflections on the Bhagwat Geeta – Chapter XIII – The Basis of Yog

We have seen that the Bhagwat Geeta stresses (निष्काम कर्म) Nishkaam-Karma or Karma without Kaam as its central message. The word Kaam reflects attachment or desire for an outcome. From Chapter II onwards, the Bhagwat Geeta teaches the true Karma-Yogi is one who performs the Karma or Actions without any attachment, without any right to the fruits or outcome of the Action and without differentiating between success or failure. In Chapter II, this was described as one of the principal characteristics of the Sthitha-Pradnya or the Stable Buddhi. In Chapter XII , this was described as a characteristic of the true Bhakt. This is an example of Geeta’s synthesis of Bhakti Marg with Karma-Yog.

In Chapter XIII, the Bhagwat Geeta synthesizes the Upanisadic concept of Atman (आत्मन) and the Saankhya (सांख्य) approach of duality of Purush (पुरुष) and Praakruti (प्राकृति).

This is why Chapter XIII is titled as क्षेत्र- क्षेत्रज्ञ-विचार or Kshetra-Kshetradnya-Vichaar. 

Before we get to Chapter XIII or to the concept of Kshetra & Kschetradnya, it might be helpful to summarize a critical aspect of Vedantic-Upanisadic Philosophy and discuss how the narrower perspective of Buddhist-Jainist-European philosophy differs from it. We will also touch upon how Yog originated from the Vedantic-Upanisadic approach.

Indian Metaphysics considers three different sets of mental operations:

  1. Cognition – our comprehension or judgement of the external
  2. Affection – our feeling of pleasure, pain
  3. Connation – our wishes and desires together with the effort to secure them – a characteristic of the mind.
Both Upanisadic-Indian and Jainist-Buddhist-European approaches treat the second operation as the function of the body and the third operation as the function of mind.

But the Upa-Nisadic approach treats the first or Cognition as the function of Buddhi. And Buddhi is distinct and different from Mind. Buddhi is considered to be Understanding as a function of Judgement or Wisdom. The foundation or basis of Yog is the control of Buddhi over Mind.

Attachment, Fear, Anger are operations of the Mind. Recall the term Veet-Raag-Bhaya-Krodh (वीत-राग-भय-क्रोध) of Verse 56, Chapter II . This term describes the state in which Raag or Attachment, Bhaya or Fear and Krodh or Anger are Veet or have been shed.

How can we reach such a state? By establishing control of Buddhi over Mind. The same verse describes the requirement to be unsaddened in grief or pain and to be without desire in happiness. Again how does one turn off these mental functions? By exercising control of Buddhi over Mind. And one who masters this control of Buddhi over Mind is called Sthitha-Pradnya (स्थित-प्रज्ञ) or an Achiever of Stable Buddhi.

In contrast, European philosophy only recognizes the distinction between Mind and Body. It treats the Cognition (Buddhi)  and Connation (Mind) as one ambiguous set. It treats these sometimes in the sense of mental experiences and sometimes in the sense of self, as an attribute of consciousness or rather self-consciousness. 

This lack of distinction between Cognition and Connation has disturbed many European philosophers, going back all the way to Plato of Greece. In his attempt to arrive at a formulation of this distinction, Plato said “cognition has two forms though only one name”. More than a millennium later, Emmanuel Kant of Germany formulated the two senses of cognition in terms of the distinction between Understanding and Reason. Later Hegel turned this into a dogma rather than develop the logic underlying it.

This is just one illustration of why Vedanta is a much more profound system of Metaphysics than anything offered in European Philosophy.

Atman (आत्मन) vs. Aham-Kaar (अहंकार)

The separation of “Buddhi from Mind” or of “Cognition from Connation” also leads to a critically important distinction. We all realize that the sense of “I” originates from the Mind. This is the concept of Aham-Kaar (अहंकार) or literally “I am the Doer”. The Aham-Kaar concept is exclusive to each individual.
But the Upa-Nisad discuss another perception, the perception that the Atman (आत्मन) or “Self” is Universal and transcends the “I” that is exclusive. Understanding this perception is the function of Buddhi and one who understands it attains a total perception that is infinite in perspective and universal in scope.

This is why the expression यः पश्यति सः पश्यति (or he who understands (this), he understands (the real Dnyaan or wisdom)) is found through out the Bhagwat Geeta.

The distinction between “Atman” and “Aham-Kaar” or “I” was the crux of Chapter II, Section 2. Remember Arjun was sad because he felt it was “he” who was going to kill “them”, the Kaurav. Arjun was engrossed in the concept of Aham-Kaar, or his belief that “I, Arjun am about to kill my relatives”. 

How does Shree Krishna clear his confusion? By explaining the concept of Atman, the “Self” that transcends the functions of the Mind and that is Universal; that cannot be hurt by weapons (नैनं शिन्दन्ति  शस्त्राणि) , that cannot be burned by fire (नैनं दहति पावकः) as explained in Verse 23, Chapter II.  And so Arjun should not grieve over something that is ungrievable (Verse 11, Chapter II). 

This understanding or the exercise of Buddhi is called Vivek (विवेक) or the discriminating understanding of the separation between Atman and Aham-Kaar. Now we see why the word Aham-Kaar is roughly translated in Indian languages as “false pride”.

The concept of Atman is developed in the various Upa-Nisad. This illustrates why the Upa-Nisad are called Vedanta or the culmination of Ved. This concept is the basis of all post-Upanisadic Indian philosophical schools except two.

The two exceptions are Jainism and Buddhism. These are both protest schools of Indian Philosophy that deny the reality of Atman. Their doctrine is known as Un-Atma-Vaad (अन-आत्म-वाद). But even they had to rely on the conception of Atman indirectly to support many of their conceptions. Like Plato, they ended up defining their own ambiguous version of the universal “Self” concept to rise above the Aham-Kaar or the “I” concept.

As discussed, the European philosophical approach is similar to that of Buddhism and Jainism. This may be why so many European “scholars” take great pains to discredit the Vedic-Upanisadic philosophy and to emphasize Buddhist influences within Eternal Dharma.

With this philosophical distinctions behind us, we are ready to discuss Chapter XIII.

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